There’s something reassuring about seeing Gina Riley, Marg Downey, Jane Turner and Magda Szubanski on telly on Sunday nights. The women of our collective sketch comedy consciousness get better with age, and they never disappoint.
Presumably Ruth Ritchie never saw Madga’s Funny Bits.
Still, there’s no denying that – going by the collective sighs coming from television critics nationwide – nostalgia for the good old days of Australian sketch comedy is a big factor in the support that Open Slather‘s been getting around the traps. Who gives a fuck if it’s funny: it reminds people of their youth and that’s what sketch comedy is all about, right?
Fortunately, week three of the show itself reveals something with a bit more going for it than just easy nostalgia and “remember when” flashbacks. For one thing, there’s a sketch about playing Baby Boomer Monopoly which is both reasonably funny and an extremely sharp reminder why it’s a bad thing that Australian comedy is almost entirely focused on the ABC. They don’t take swipes at rich old people at the ABC because rich old people are their target audience; we’ll happily eat our words when The Weekly tackles housing affordability or university fees. Or any other internal Australian issue that’s even moderately divisive.
Open Slather still relies a lot on firmly average material: a series of Game of Thrones sketches were largely pointless – no, downloaders don’t “want to find out what happens before everybody else”, they want to find out what happens at the same time as everybody else – “Man vs Awkward” is not working out and the two priests seem to have disappeared up their own arses surprisingly quickly considering it’s only week three. At least the Downton Abbey sketch came right at the end of the episode and was basically about how there’s nothing to make fun of on Downton Abbey, so they’ve finally realised that.
But in between the dross a lot of the stand-alone sketches were surprisingly strong. Hamish Blake playing God at a press conference about “ticketing problems” was basically just an excuse for Blake to do his sub-David Brent arrogant arsehole act, but as a once-off bit it still worked. And Magda playing a snarky alarm clock that sneered out contemptuous abuse every time someone hit snooze was a good idea executed well; a show full of sketches that sharp would actually be worth everyone’s time.
It’s still a show with a disappointingly low strike rate, but even the duds have a glimmer of hope. “Wipe my bum for cocaine” at least had a point about how far people will go for free drugs; the one about the guy wanting six months off to catch up on prestige television drama probably needed at least one more draft. As for the run of Family Feud sketches… yeah, if the joke is “the family is actually feuding”, try again.
By definition an hour-long sketch show has to be all over the place. If you’re running that long you have to cast a wide net, and not everything is going to work for everyone. But after a fairly jarring first week things seems to have settled down enough to create a show that tackles a wide range of material while still feeling like all the sketches belong together.
Even better, it now feels like a show where everyone is pulling their weight, rather than the name brand performers being off in their own corner. The Family Feud sketches were weak but Jane Turner as host lifted them; Magda’s alarm clock felt like a character that could take off through sheer quality rather than – as is the case with the already fatally tired ‘Gina Minehart’ – sheer repetition. Hell, if Open Slather keeps improving – and of course there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will – it might get to the stage where the stuff you like is so good it’s worth sitting through the stuff you don’t.
And as for this observation from Ritchie:
Magda’s trancelike Gina Minehart moves like a cyborg, determined to consume everything in her path. Children all over Australia are already mimicking her as they reach for the hot chips after school, droning, “Mine… all mine.”
Yeah, we’re pretty sure she just made that up.